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Where is Bailout for the Poor Victims of Katrina?

Final Call.com, News Analysis , Jesse Muhammad Posted: Jan 15, 2009

The state of Mississippis plans to spend a half-billion federal dollars to expand a storm-torn port, was recently delivered a potential blow by angry low-income residents demanding the rebuilding of homes lost in Hurricane Katrina instead.

It is unfortunate that money earmarked for the recovery victims of Hurricane Katrina is now being taken away for the purpose of business development, said Derrick Johnson, state president of the Mississippi NAACP.

Our suit contends that this is contrary to the primary purpose of the congressional appropriation and violates the requirements of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, said Mr. Johnson.

Along with the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, the lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., against the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The plaintiffs are challenging that the agencys approval of a plan submitted by the state to reroute $600 million of federal hurricane recovery funds designated for affordable housing to bankroll the expansion of the Port of Gulfport, saying the states plans are lawful.

This is in essence creating another disaster, only its manmade. Its unconscionable that HUD would approve a plan that neglects tax-paying citizens, said James Crowell, a member of the NAACP national board of directors and a Katrina survivor.

Katrina slammed Mississippis coast three years ago, wiping some towns off of the map. To date nearly 6,000 families remain in temporary shelters, with over half still living in FEMA trailers. The shaky economy has also caused housing rates and insurance costs to escalate. That has forced many, like Sabrina Wallace, to move to cities such as Houston.

Its sad how when youre down, someone comes and kicks you in the head. Three-years-later they still have not done right by the people, said Ms. Wallace to The Final Call. They rather bail out corporate crooks than give the poor people a lifeline. They are choosing a port over the poor? Thats the American way I guess.

Following Katrina, U.S. lawmakers appropriated over $5 billion in emergency recovery funds to Mississippi to address critical housing needs in the hurricane damaged area, specifically affordable housing.

The return of the $600 million to the housing budget would make it possible for our friends and neighbors to have somewhere to live, said Mr. Crowell. That is why this lawsuit is important for those of us who are still trying to recover from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

The plaintiffs argue HUD was required to review and assess Mississippis port expansion plan to determine whether the proposal was in line with Fair Housing Act and low-to-moderate income benefit requirements. Additionally, the suit states that HUD violated its duties by accepting the expansion plan without performing the review first/

Through this lawsuit, we intend to enforce HUDs duty to ensure there will be a housing choice for the thousands of households that Mississippi does not want to help, said Attorney Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

It is regrettable that HUD has approved a plan that so badly turns its back on the housing needs of the most vulnerable residents in the Gulf Coast area, said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The complaint also charges HUD has authorized Mississippi to drop its commitment to lower-income households affected by Katrinafrom 50 percent to 13 percent. According to the NAACP, in counties such as Harrison, Hancock and Jackson, approximately 65 percent of the housing units exposed to the storm surge and more than 57 percent of the units exposed to flood waters were occupied by poor people living below the U.S. median income level.

The diversion of funds intended to rebuild safe, affordable housing for low-income, elderly and disabled people has shattered the promise of making affordable housing the priority of this recovery effort, added Mr. Morse.

The governors office maintains the stance that expanding the port, the third-busiest container port in the Gulf of Mexico, is critical to the getting the regions economy back on course. Housing advocates disagree/

Safe, affordable housing was touted as the hallmark of Mississippis recovery efforts, said Charmel Gaulden, executive director of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center. Katrina decimated the availability of affordable housing, especially rentals, in this area. Now, our own government is seeking to leave the least among us out in the cold. We must hold HUD accountable for a fair, equitable rebuilding effort.

On March 1, 2009 FEMA will cease providing assistance to Mississippians displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Related Articles:

Katrina's Hidden Race War

Suit Alleges New Orleans' "Road Home" Program Discriminates Against Blacks

Actor Danny Glover Talks Politics, Promotes Katrina Documentary

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